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The American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM), an international society of more than 4,000 occupational physicians and associated professionals, provides leadership to promote optimal health and safety of workers, workplaces, and environments. Occupational and environmental medicine is the medicine specialty devoted to prevention and management of occupational and environmental injury, illness and disability, and promotion of health and productivity of workers, their families, and communities.

ACOEM has taken the position that marijuana is an impairing substance and its legalization has huge public and workplace health implications.  Before passing any legislation legalizing this substance, the U.S. Congress should proceed deliberately and consider workplace safety when dealing with this complex issue.

To date, 33 states and the District of Columbia have legalized the medical and/or recreational use of marijuana. With most Americans living and working in states that allow some form of legal marijuana use, it is critical that safety be at the forefront of any policy discussions regarding the use of cannabinoids outside of the standard Food and Drug Administration approval process.

The current patchwork of laws to address marijuana use and workplace safety is detrimental to employees, employers, and the general public, notes ACOEM in its statement on the Legalization of Marijuana – Implications for Workplace Safety which was sent to all members of Congress late last week.

ACOEM urges legislators to carefully consider the impact of any federal marijuana legislation on workplace safety. “While there is much not known about marijuana, what is known is that marijuana can cause impairment which will interfere with safe and acceptable performance in the workplace,” said ACOEM president Stephen Frangos, MD. “Furthermore, this is particularly concerning for those individuals working in safety-sensitive positions where impairment can affect the health and safety of other workers, customers, the general public, or others.”

ACOEM notes that employers have a legal responsibility under the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s general duty clause to protect employees from workplace illness or injury, and an ethical responsibility to prevent impaired workers from exposing themselves, their co-workers, and/or the general public to risk of harm.

Therefore, regardless of marijuana’s legal status in a jurisdiction, ACOEM strongly supports legislative proposals that allow employers to prohibit those employed in safety-sensitive positions from working while under the influence of marijuana.